Forgiveness and Fear

0000321737-001I just read the most satisfying conclusion to a secular novel that I think I’ve ever read. Ann Rinaldi’s A Break with Charity: a Story About the Salem Witch Trials ends with the characters wisely and beautifully addressing the topics of forgiveness and fear:

The antagonist, Ann returns to Salem, some 15 years after tearing the town apart with her accusations of witchery in order to beg forgiveness before she dies:

“You forgive me then? I am near death’s door. The Devil has already picked my bones. I’ll never have husband and children to hold close to me.”

I feel something give inside me, like a great wall collapsing. And it comes to me that the hate I bore her all these years was more fearful than the person I was supposed to be hating. I can barely say the words. My heart is so full. “Yes, Ann, I forgive you.”

Later, in the closing conversation the protagonist, Susannah, has with her husband, they discuss how fear can distort:

He looks at me. “No my love, For we’ve seen how easily neighbor can mistrust neighbor, and how a crowd can eagerly attend the hanging of one they’ve known all their lives. And how doubts can gnaw away at solid thought, like a mouse at cheese.”

I nod. “And how fear can take shape,” I say, “and become more real than things one can see and touch. And plunge the heart down a dark road from whence one may never return.”

…I know better than any that the line is thin between what is fanciful and what is real, and human nature being what it is, a witch hunt can easily start up again if we are not  careful.

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